Are Obama's Iran Sanctions A Ruse?
While the new sanctions will inflict a significant measure of pain against Iran's already struggling economy, virtually no one in Washington believes that they will compel Iran to make unilateral concessions at the bargaining table over its nuclear enrichment program. And, experts say, Iran can get along fine for the foreseeable future with a little belt-tightening.
| Is that a trick question?|
"The reality is not that 'Iran is on the verge of a choice between having a nuclear program or an economy,' as Cliff Kupchan, a senior analyst on the Middle East at the Eurasia Group, insists. [The] Islamic Republic will still rake in an estimated $40 billion from oil this year. That's roughly twice as much as when Mohammad Khatami was president a decade ago." The only way sanctions against Iran make sense is not as policy, but politics.
Since 2009, when the first round of talks stalled between Iran and the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, the so-called P5+1, the Obama administration has used economic sanctions as a way of kicking the can down the road. Rather than make real concessions to Tehran, including recognition of Iran's right to enrich, if Iran accept[ed] air-tight international oversight by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the White House used the sanctions as a way of deflecting pressure from neoconservatives, hawks, and right-wing backers of Israel in the United States who demanded confrontation with Iran. Inside the administration, few if any officials actually believe that sanctions will work as intended, namely, to force Iran to comply with UN Security Council resolutions that demand a stop to enrichment.
Since 2009, President Obama has opposed, deflected, and tried to weaken sanctions legislation enacted by Congress. Were sanctions too draconian, and were the United States to move overtly toward military confrontation with Iran, the P5+1 coalition would instantly shatter and both Moscow and Beijing would align more closely with Tehran.
So, even as it huffs and puffs, the United States last week took steps to undermine the very sanctions it cites as pressure against Iran. Using a loophole in the law, the administration simply exempted China, Singapore and other countries from heavy financial penalties that might be levied against nations that buy Iranian oil. As a July 2 editorial in the Wall Street Journal succinctly summarized the toothless nature of the sanctions law: "It's so weak, in fact, that all 20 of Iran's major trading partners are now exempt from them. We've arrived at a kind of voodoo version of sanctions. They look real, insofar as Congress forced them into a bill President Obama had to sign in December. The Administration has spoken incantations about their powers. But if you're a big oil importer in China, India or 18 other major economies, the sanctions are mostly smoke."
In the United States, anti-Iran hardliners fumed over the seeming futility of the sanctions policy and the exemptions granted to China, India and other countries in Asia. It's precisely to head off such critics that the Obama administration has adopted its curious hybrid policy of 'negotiations-plus-pressure'. And, for the same reason, it's very unlikely that the Obama administration will make any concessions to Iran in order to win tit-for-tat concessions from Iran in 2012. Better, they calculate, to stall, look tough, and if need be engage in a military buildup in the Persian Gulf now and then.
That U.S. and E.U. sanctions against Iran aren't likely to force Iran to back down doesn't mean that Tehran isn't feeling the pain. Problem is, in order for Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader, to be forced into concessions, he'd have to conclude that the very survival of the clerical regime was threatened by a popular revolt triggered by economic crisis, and there's no sign that Iran is anywhere close to that.
Posted by: Pappy